The Right Guards
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UNCASVILLE, Conn -- On a night where the team’s frontcourt star took center stage, Connecticut proved that it has a special backcourt as well.
Before the Sun’s opening game versus the Liberty in the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Mohegan Sun Arena, guard Renee Montgomery was awarded the Sixth Woman of the Year Award and guard Kara Lawson was honored with the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award.
Montgomery, who moved to the bench to allow Kara Lawson to start, still averaged 24 minutes a game and put up 11.6 points and 2.6 assists per night.
It wasn't an easy transition for Montgomery, who started all 34 games in 2011, and she admitted that she wasn’t “excited” about the move when coach Thibault first presented her with it.
Renee Montgomery thrived coming off the bench this season
for the Sun. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
Thibault still regards Montgomery as one of the better guards in the league, but with so much scoring power already in the starting lineup, namely with Tina Charles, the 2012 WNBA MVP, and Asjha Jones, he wanted to save the 5-foot-7 guard's explosiveness for when the team needed it most.
“In my way of thinking, it’s a team game and you need to put your players in a position that they best help the team,” Thibault said. “She gives us a jolt of energy every time she comes in the game and we have instant scoring. It changes the pace of the game and I just think it fits our team.
Thibault says he knew Montgomery had a good chance at winning this award once he had her coming off the bench and the move helped propel the team to a 25-9 record and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Part of what makes moving a player with Montgomery’s talent to the bench easier to justify is Lawson's play this year. In her tenth season, Lawson set career highs in points, rebounds and assists in 2012.
“She is completely healthy for the first time in about three or four years,” Thibault said. “She changed her diet and her body and her conditioning. She had an offseason to work on her game rather than spend her offseason just trying to get healthy.”
Even though she is 31 years old, Thibault thinks Lawson could just be entering the prime of her career.
What’s even more spectacular than her play on the court is that Lawson’s been so charitable off the court, thus why she received the Sportsmanship Award. Ever since her collegiate head coach and basketball legend, Pat Summitt, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, last August, Lawson’s been involved in raising both funds and awareness for Alzheimer's research.
This season, Lawson pledged to donate $50 for each 3-pointer she made to the Pat Summitt Foundation, and the Connecticut Sun and Mohegan Sun matched her donation. How did she respond? Well, she just set a new franchise record with 74 made 3-pointers this season, thus donating $3,700 personally to the cause.
“Kara Lawson and the sportsmanship award – that’s a no brainer,” Charles said. “What she’s able to do for others and what’s she’s doing for Pat Summit, and you know every three that she makes she’s donating, I think that’s just huge. It just shows you the other character of Kara Lawson, the other side, which we personally knew but it gives a great outlook for everybody else who's not personally around her every day.”
All in all, it was a banner day for the Connecticut Sun before the game even started. Amidst all the individual honors, the team even announced that it will host the 2013 All-Star Game. But, while postseason awards are nice, Charles is quick to tell you that that’s not why they play.
“We’ll definitely give it all back for a championship,” Charles said of the awards. “I think that’s the best hardware out there right now.”